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By Scott Shrake

"Where the Future Is Happening"

Alumna Jamie Baker Knauss practices pediatrics in California — and maintains her Michigan ties

Caring for society’s youngest members has been a life mission for Jamie Baker Knauss (M.D. 1981), a pediatrician in private practice in Pasadena, California, for 20 years who, with her husband, Robert Knauss, has four children ages 11 to 22.

Born the oldest of four in Enid, Oklahoma, Knauss spent most of her childhood first in Ada, Michigan, then Ann Arbor. It was a close family, Knauss says. “My mother poured a lot of intelligence and care into raising us, and my father encouraged us to pursue careers that would challenge us and let us provide for ourselves financially.” He also encouraged his daughters to consider careers beyond those traditionally considered suitable for women, she says.

Knauss met her future husband when both attended Ann Arbor’s Pioneer High School. They parted ways for college, but reunited at the U-M, where Robert was attending law school. The two married in Jamie’s third year of medical school, then after graduation lived in Washington, D.C., for a year, where Robert clerked for the late Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquis — along with current Chief Justice John G. Roberts. The two former clerks have remained friends over the years, and the Knausses attended Judge Roberts’ swearing-in ceremony as Chief Justice in September.

After their stint in the nation’s capital, Jamie matched at UCLA, and Robert found work at the law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP in Los Angeles, where he is now a corporate partner. Knauss completed her residency at UCLA in 1984, and was an adjunct professor there for two more years before joining her practice. California has been good to the Knauss family, and Jamie says she has enjoyed serving a diverse community: She calls the state “a place where the future is happening.”

Knauss received a bachelor’s in English at Vanderbilt University before earning her master’s in English at Michigan. “English and medicine were the two careers I was interested in. Luckily, Michigan was looking for people with broad interests,” she says. “My class was very broad and diverse.” She points out that the U-M continues to fill its
medical school with students who have more than just great MCATs and grades: depth of personality and character is also an important qualification.

It was the pediatricians Knauss met at the U-M's C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital who inspired her to pursue her specialty, she says. “They were positive, encouraging and very involved with their patients, and I felt very comfortable with them,” she says. “Robert Kelch was chairman of pediatrics at the time, and he was very approachable and ready to help with practical suggestions of career choices. He was especially supportive of women.”

Since the U-M’s Galens Medical Society is dedicated to improving the welfare of kids in Washtenaw County, Knauss was a natural to be involved in it. This impulse toward service continues today. One of the numerous hospital and community boards on which Knauss serves is that of an innovative organization called Young and Healthy, which brings together volunteer health providers to serve uninsured Pasadena school children. Knauss has been a volunteer physician there for 10 years. One of its founders is her fellow U-M alumna Shelby Dietrich Rector (M.D. 1949, Residencies 1950 and 1951).

The education Michigan provided was comprehensive and confidence-giving, and when I started my residency, I realized how well prepared I was.

At Michigan, Knauss forged close bonds with many of her classmates. She and her medical school friends traveled together, and she recalls learning how to camp in sub-zero-degree weather from her “Upper Peninsula friends.” And she was voted the class speaker for commencement. “That opportunity to highlight our years together as students and anticipate our future as physicians was a huge privilege,” Knauss says.

The Rose Bowl has been a fairly regular supplement to the other means by which she keeps in touch with fellow alumni. “Michigan has been out to Pasadena many times in the 20 years we’ve lived here,” she points out.

Knauss also maintains ties to her Michigan past through the Medical Center Alumni Society (MCAS), which she has served as president, working to strengthen regional ties among medical alumni and emphasizing the opportunity alumni have to give to scholarship support. She says, “The real motivation is that, through all the levels of my education, it’s medical school that I feel most grateful for — that opportunity to study for four years in the company of distinctive students and professors. The education Michigan provided was comprehensive and confidence-giving, and when I started my residency, I realized how well prepared I was. U-M medical students say the same thing now. I think that motivates a lot of the alumni who are involved with MCAS.”

When she was in high school, her friend and church group advisor, David G. Dickinson (M.D. 1945, Residency 1950), talked with Knauss about pursuing pediatrics. “He had run the polio unit at Michigan in the ’50s, and practiced primary care pediatrics for many years there,” she says. When Knauss joined the MCAS board over six years ago, she experienced a wonderful illustration of the lifelong allegiance Michigan alumni feel to their community: “Dr. Dickinson was there to welcome me, still supporting Michigan even after his retirement.”

In her two-decade career so far, Jamie Baker Knauss reports that she has most enjoyed and is most thankful for “the many long-term relationships with families, being there for the long haul with them through the ups and the downs: first-child anxiety … minor illnesses … significant chronic illness … graduations … going off to college, choosing a career — truly birth-to-death issues.”

Asked what makes her proudest, she hesitates, then says, “I guess I do take extra delight in a number of my patients, most of them women, who have investigated or chosen pediatrics as a profession.”

Copyright © 2005, The Regents of the University of Michigan and Medicine at Michigan Magazine.

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